Many know the first snowfall in Edmonton means a higher than average number of fender benders and traffic problems. Cold vehicles, scraping off windshields and sliding around on ice are well known evils of winter driving. However, there was a time when winter driving was even less comfortable for Edmontonians.
In the Teens, both automobiles and horse-drawn vehicles were present on Edmonton streets, with horses greatly outnumbering the cars. Roads were always a problem, even back in 1905 when there were probably less than a half-dozen cars in Edmonton. Paving continued slowly, with Jasper Avenue only paved one mile in 1905. Seven years later, however, most “roads” were pitted, dirty and often difficult to navigate with small wheels, resulting in plenty of ruts for wagons to get stuck in, and plenty of mud and slush for automobiles to skid through. The photograph below shows a developing Jasper Ave. in the 1920’s. (Photo courtesy of the University of Alberta Library)
Furthermore, vehicles didn’t have wind screens or heaters and many didn’t have a roof. This meant very little protection from the harsh elements, not to mention no way to prevent car fluids or batteries from freezing. Even into the 1920s, automobiles were put into winter storage. Garages like the Motordrome, which Fort Edmonton Park represents on 1920 Street, advertised winter storage for customers who had no garages of their own.
When you could drive, horses were to be given the right of way, no exceptions. Speed limits when passing horses were lower than usual, and if horses were scared, cars were to stop completely. It wasn’t until 1928 that the first “traffic light” showed up on Jasper Avenue, which was simply a battery operated light box held up by a police officer.
Did you know? – Fort Edmonton Park offers a number of programs on 1920 Street regarding the Edmonton Automobile and Good Roads Society, one of the precursors to the A.M.A. Petitions and membership drives get visitors to engage with the issues facing the ‘modern’ motorist.